The Ramadan Guilt Trip
I’ll let you in on a little secret: Last year’s Ramadan left me feeling guilty when Eid arrived. I had intended to complete many things during Ramadan — memorise some surahs from the Qur’an, complete several readings of the entire Qur’an, and to pray taraweeh in congregation daily, just to name a few.
But as Ramadan drew to a close, all I had were memories of delaying my Qur’an recitations and memorisation, and having to skip numerous congregational taraweeh for completing other assignments and projects.
It was so bad that I recall myself tearing as the Eid takbir played over the airwaves after Maghrib. A mixture of anger and disappointment in myself washed over me as I realized I had wasted my time in Ramadan.
So what went wrong?
Facts from the ‘2011 Productivity in Ramadan Report’
While researching for this article, I came across a Productivity in Ramadan Report written by Productive Muslim and Dinar Standard. The entire report is an interesting read, but the three biggest takeaways for me are these facts:
1. I am not alone in feeling the Ramadan Guilt Trip
According to the report, 65% of the Muslims interviewed felt that they “could do better” in terms of engaging in spiritual activities in Ramadan, while close to ⅕ are “very disappointed” in what they have achieved. Only 18% of interviewees are satisfied with what they have managed to do.
That means a whopping ⅘ of the approximately 1,600 Muslims interviewed felt the same way I did when Ramadan ended: Guilty!
2. The challenge is in Qur’anic recitation and performing taraweeh
The report stated that more than ⅔ of the interviewees struggled with their Qur’an recitation in Ramadan, while more than half struggled with their focus. Additionally, 47% had trouble performing the taraweeh prayers regularly.
Who would have known that most of the respondents of the survey too struggled with the same issues I faced?
3. The Upside: All of us want to do better
Lastly, the report said that while we Muslims often struggle with spirituality issues in Ramadan — and often feel guilty when Ramadan ends — 77% of us do harbour the intention to try and maintain our productivity in Ramadan.
With the above uplifting findings in mind — that all of us do want to improve our spirituality and productivity in Ramadan — I’ve written this article to address the root causes of our Ramadan Guilt Trip, and to suggest 5 tips we can implement to avoid feeling guilty at the end of the next Ramadan.
I hope the article benefits you as much as it has benefited me whilst I was researching it, In sha Allah.
Root Cause of the Ramadan Guilt Trip
I first came across the term “Ramadan Guilt Trip” whilst reading the 30 Tips for a Guilt-Free Ramadan free ebook by Abu Productive.
In the introduction of the ebook, he mentioned several reasons why a lot of Muslims end up feeling guilty when Ramadan ends.
These reasons include:
- Having unrealistic expectations
- Not easing on
- eself into Ramadan
- Lack in istiqamah (steadfastness)
- Energy and time management issues
- Lack of community support
- Lack of knowledge and training
- Lack of fitness
- Missing a spiritual link with Ramadan
As the 2011 “Productivity in Ramadan Report” similarly concludes: “there is a need for Muslims to better prepare for Ramadan”.
In short, the root cause why most of us faced the Ramadan Guilt Trip was because we failed to plan for Ramadan! And as the old adage says:
“Failing to plan is like planning to fail”
Here are 5 tips on how we can avoid the Ramadan Guilt Trip and not make the same mistakes every year.
5 Tips to Avoid The Ramadan Guilt Trip
TIP 1: Plan Your Goals And Strategy Ahead
Approximately a week before Ramadan begins, dedicate an hour or two to clarify your intentions and goals for Ramadan. Get it down on paper instead of just having it in your mind.
Because when you write your intentions and goals down, you are consciously giving them due attention, and subconsciously committing yourself to them instead of being wishy-washy about it.
You could begin by asking yourself the 5 questions, Kipling’s six honest serving-men — the Where, Who, What, Why, When and How:
1. The WHERE question (self-image):
Where am I right now?
As Abu Productive mentioned in his ebook, two reasons why Muslims fail to achieve what they intended to are: 1. having unrealistic expectations and 2. failing to ease themselves into Ramadan.
To avoid the same mistakes, we should thus take ourselves into account first by asking ourselves where we are right now in relation to our scale of spiritual deeds. To pinpoint our location, we could ask ourselves: How many times do I pray a day? Do I read the Qur’an everyday? If so, how many pages do I read?
We need to be really honest to ourselves when answering the WHERE question, for the answers will set the tone for the rest of the questions.
2. The WHO question (ideal identity):
Who do I want to be when Ramadan leaves me?
Once we have taken account of where we are at this moment, we should then ask ourselves where we want to be; or rather, WHO we want to be when Ramadan ends.
“Your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity. What you do now is a mirror image of the type of person you believe that you are (either consciously or subconsciously). To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself.” —James Clear, author of Identity-based Habits
According to Clear, when we shape a new identity for ourselves, we are essentially telling ourselves that we can be this “improved” person. This makes it easier for us to stay motivated to stick to new habits we want to form.
It is, however, essential to answer the WHO question in relation to the WHERE question in order to avoid unrealistic expectations.
3. The WHAT question (goals)
What do I wish to achieve during Ramadan?
After determining the ideal person we wish to be by the end of Ramadan, the next step is to figure out what we wish to achieve in terms of goals in order to get to that identity.
The WHAT-answers we come up with should be specific and attainable, which means we should always keep where we are in mind.
For instance, if we have not been reading the Qur’an for a long time and we have trouble reading Arabic, it would be rather unrealistic to aim to complete reciting the Qur’an thrice in Ramadan. Likewise, if we have not been praying 5 times a day, it would be somewhat challenging to want to pray all the sunnah prayers throughout Ramadan.
Remember the Prophet’s advise:
Abu Hurairah narrated that the Prophet said: “Take on only as much as you can do of good deeds, for the best of deeds is that which is done consistently, even if it is little.” [Sunan Ibn Majah]
We should thus try to avoid setting overly ambitious goals, only to burn out after the first week of Ramadan.
4. The WHY question (intentions):
Why do I want to do the actions I am committing to?
Once we have written the goals down, the next thing to determine is the intention behind our wanting to achieve those goals. Research has shown that internal motivations trump external motivations. Hence, it is crucial that we spend some time to contemplate on our intentions.
It was narrated from ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab that the Prophet said: “Actions are but by intentions, and each person will have but that which he intended. …” [Sunan an-Nasa’i]
Additionally in the hadith above, the Prophet advised that if our intentions are for other than Allah (e.g. to lose weight), then we will only get what we intended for. If so, we will only disappoint ourselves again at the end of Ramadan if we fail to address our intentions at the very beginning.
5. The HOW question (strategy)
How will I complete the goals?
At this point, we will have determined the starting and ending points of our Ramadan journey and why we are undertaking the journey. What we should do next is to figure out how we will get there.
When we figure out the answers to the HOW question, we are essentially creating a strategy for ourselves. A good way to approach this is to break up our end-goals into smaller milestones, and then spread them throughout the entire period of Ramadan.
Remember, the most important advice to always keep in mind is:
“Take on only as much as you can do of good deeds, for the best of deeds is that which is done consistently, even if it is little.” [Sunan Ibn Majah]
6. The WHEN question (milestones)
By when will I complete these goals?
Lastly, after determining the milestones, we should then allocate a specific date by which to complete them. Be realistic in determining our due dates.
Case in point, I have a group of friends who regularly complete a full recital of the Qur’an together, and we used to complete one recitation each month with ease. Feeling ambitious, we decided to change it to once every week instead! Needless to say, things quickly deteriorated as many of us struggled to complete. We have hence decided to aim for a more reachable target of twice a month instead.
In addition to considering the attainability of our targeted spiritual actions, we would also need to consider all our non-Ramadan assignments and projects and their due dates when setting deadlines for our milestones. Ask: Will we be able to commit to both responsibilities within that specific time frame?
To sum up Tip 1: if there is only one tip you would like to take implement in your life, it is to plan your Ramadan ahead of time.
TIP 2: Track Your Schedule, Plan Your Time
In one of the several life experiments that I performed last year, I decided to consciously track how I made use of every single minute of my day. To conduct the experiment, I downloaded the iOS app called iTrackMyTime.
With this app, I was able to log my actions throughout the entire day in relation to time spent, and in return, the app beautifully calculates and shows my data to me in an infographic.
By Time, verily man is in loss. [Qur’an: Chapter 103, Verses 103:1-2]
Hence, my second tip would be that we should first make it a point to be conscious of our daily schedule. By using apps like iTrackMyTime or even just good old pen and paper, we would be forced to be more aware of what we truly spend our time on (and just how much we have been wasting). Once we are aware of how we spend our time, we could then better plan our time for the month of Ramadan.
Are all the hours usually spent preparing food and eating? As appropriate, replace a part of that with a beneficial alternative like reciting the Qur’an! All the five-minute-breaks we usually waste on social media — fill them up with reading the tafsir instead!
I find that breaking down my time into hours and writing down what I will be doing in those hours helps me to complete my tasks better than simply having a generic to-do list.
One of the bonuses of Ramadan is that it urges us to wake up before Fajr, something that a lot of us struggle with. In fact, it is like having an additional hour in our days as we are now awake at the time we usually sleep. Make full use of that hour to engage in spiritual activities. After all, Prophet Muhammad did make du’a for blessings to be present in our mornings:
It was narrated from Ibn ‘Umar that the Prophet said: “O Allah, bless my nation in their early mornings.” … [Sunan Ibn Majah]
For steps to become an early riser, you might want to check out my article here.
TIP 3: Track Your Habits And Milestones During Ramadan
In Tip 1, we have drawn out our strategy for Ramadan — our battle plan.
However, a plan remains only as a plan unless we are consistent in carrying it out; an architect’s building plans can never come to life unless work gets done on it!
Therefore, it is essential that you take note of your habits and milestones in order to keep yourself on track.
For those of you who spend a lot of time on your gadgets, it would probably be a good idea to invest in one of the many habit-tracking applications available today. I currently use the free Good Habits iOs app on my iPhone that enables me to key in all the small daily habits I would like to do daily.
Using Seinfeld’s “do not break the chain” method, every day the app reminds me to do the habit, and then gets me to cross it off when done. Day by day, as the length of my habit chain grew, I got more motivated and ensured that it does not get cut off!
A good thing about Good Habits app is that I can pause certain habits — to-do entries. i.e. — whenever needed, especially useful for us ladies.
For those of you who are not as attached to your gadgets, you can just take a piece of paper, draw (or print) 30 boxes for each habit, and check off a box each day as you complete the respective habit! A good idea would be to place the paper somewhere that you have no choice but to view it, just like the reminder function in the Good Habits app.
TIP 4: Start Journaling
Once we have started tracking our habits and milestones, we should also dedicate at least five minutes at the end of each day journaling our progress, be it in an essay format or in point form (for those who hate writing!).
In his free e-book The Practice of Intent, Shaykh Ebrahim Schuitema writes on the importance of journaling:
“So what the journaling does is give us the opportunity to abstract, to literally pull ourselves back from day to day events, it allows us to pull back further and further, in order to see the much bigger picture.
“Most of us cannot see the wood for the trees. We are stuck with our faces pressed so close to the glass of the events and experiences of our lives that we cannot see them objectively. With the journaling we are trying to learn how to see the wood and the trees.” —Shaykh Ebrahim Schuitema
By keeping a daily journal of our day and progress, no matter how brief, we are allowing ourselves to be conscious of our actions, and to be more receptive to the messages Allah is Conveying to us in our conversations with Him.
From your daily journals, set aside some time to create a weekly summary. And from your weekly summaries, set aside some time for a monthly summary. In sha Allah, the journals will really help us to keep track of our position in our Ramadan journey, giving us clues as to whether we should step things up, or to slow down and take a breather.
As we become more in tune with our actions, journaling will also provide us with clues as to why we might be struggling to achieve certain milestones and excel at others. With these clues, we can then adjust our Ramadan strategies accordingly early on before we waste the entire month away, bi idhnillah.
The last tip would probably resonate more with those who are in their teens and twenties, young adults and youth who are the gadget-generation! Let’s face it: some of us know that many of us are hopelessly married to our smart gadgets, and we all know that we need to do something about it, especially during Ramadan (which is why we get so many requests on this topic here at Productive Muslim)!
Knowing precisely all the above is the reason why I embarked on another of my life-experiments last year — dumbing down my smart phone.
In his book Hooked, author Nir Eyal states that successful smartphone applications are those that ensure users make a habit of coming back to it. As I mentioned in my Habit-Making series, Instagram uses ‘likes’ notifications to keep its users returning, craving the reward of peer-validation. All other successful social media applications work the same way!
Hence, to cut off the problem of smart gadgets addiction, I suggest that we go cold turkey: delete all the time-wasting apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter from our phones!
To make it a little easier, we could tell ourselves that we are embarking on an experiment, just like I did with mine. By telling myself that I am on an experiment, I remove the pressure of failing, and I subconsciously tell myself that I just have to hang on for a certain number of days. In actuality, by the time I end the experiment, I would have already achieved in getting what I need done (i.e. kill my social media addiction!)
After dumbing down our smartphones and tablets, the next thing we should do is to curb our social media usage on our laptops and desktops. To do this, we can use several applications:
- StayFocused (Chrome only): The free StayFocused chrome application helps you to limit the time you spend on time-wasting websites. Once your allotted time has been used up, the sites you have blocked will be inaccessible for the rest of the day. The app is also highly configurable, allowing you to block or allow entire sites, specific subdomains, specific paths, specific pages, even specific in-page content.
- RescueTime (Mac/Linux/Windows): With the RescueTime free application, you can easily view what you do on your desktop. One of the most important things about RescueTime is that there is no data entry needed — you just have to install a small application on your computer and the app magically tracks what software and which websites are actively being used (while you are online). You can then set goals (e.g. spend only 1 hour on social media sites), and a weekly report will be sent to you.
However, the magic of RescueTime lies in its paid option (US $9/month; $6/month for annual subscription). With the paid option, it allows you to track offline time, get notifications when you achieve your daily goals, gives you a daily report, and even block websites that are distracting!
I have been using RescueTime Premium (email them your student status to get 30% off) for a week or so now, and I am highly considering on making the investment. As a freelance writer and web developer, I perpetually sleep with my laptop and the app has successfully ensured that I procrastinate less and deliver more!
- SelfControl (Mac only): When I REALLY need to get things done and stop aimlessly browsing the web, I turn to the free application SelfControl. A free application that lets you block your own access to distracting websites, your mail servers, or anything else on the Internet. All I have to do is just set a period of time to block for, add sites to your blacklist, and click Start. Until that timer expires, I will be unable to access those sites, even if you restart your computer or delete the application! Brutal! But drastic times call for drastic measures.
All in all, if you have been keeping track of your time, you would really be able to see the huge amount of time wasted on social media applications — all the minutes on the train, walking, just sitting down, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling…
Imagine all the things we can accomplish during that time!
Let us revisit the 5 tips on how we can avoid feeling guilty at the end of Ramadan this year on:
- Plan your goals and strategy ahead of time
- Track your schedule, then plan your time
- Track your habits and milestones during Ramadan
- Start journaling during Ramadan
- Get your smart gadgets to make you smarter
And for last and most important tip, remember to consistently make du’a to Allah , for all power and change lies only with Him. With Him lies ease, and with Him lies difficulty, so let us rely not only on the various tips, articles, and applications, but to rely first on Allah .
May Allah grant us the rizq of a blessed Ramadan. May He accept our struggles to change for His sake as good deeds. May we leave Ramadan as part of the 18% of Muslims who leave Ramadan knowing that they have done the best they could. Ameen!
So adopt, adapt and try out some of these tips. Tell us about the challenges you faced in the process. We’d love you to share your experiences, tips and tricks in comments below so everyone can benefit, In sha Allah!